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HHS Press

GameCrank: The Perfect Game?

Patrick Pontes

The discussion over objective quality is one that has rattled my brain for a long time now. On one hand, a part of me wants to fundamentally reject the idea of a perfect game on my belief that there’s no such thing as perfect, and yet I’ve commonly made claims of games being objectively bad before. So what stops them from being so good that they’re basically perfect? There’s an even bigger headache to be had in the discussion of personal preferences and their relation to quality.

Let me posit a couple examples to help you understand what I’m talking about.

“Pokemon.” It’s a good series. Or at least I perceive it to be a good series. I recognize the amount of effort put into its construction and all the thought put into its depth and complexity. However, I’ve never truly loved it. I don’t want to say that I dislike a lot of “Pokemon” games, but especially with the more recent titles, I’ve been caught in a paradox. I recognize that these games are more polished than their predecessors in different ways, and yet I can’t force myself to enjoy them all that much. It’s not like I’m incapable of liking the concept of “Pokemon,” because I certainly have in the past, but for whatever reason the newer titles just don’t seem as good to me despite the fact that they are good.

Here’s an example on the other end of the spectrum, too: “Sonic.” I’ll take one game in particular: 2006’s “Sonic the Hedgehog.” The game is infested with technical problems at a basic level: the loading times are horrendously long and numerous, there are glitches everywhere, and the game is full of broken level design and mechanics. These aren’t issues that pertain towards personal taste and perception. These are facts that are universally present in every single copy of this game, and they’re features that are intrinsically negative. Yet, despite all of this, there are people who’ve gone to bat to defend this game. Come to think of it, there are people who will defend any game no matter how often you announce the game’s objective flaws. I dislike good games, and these people like bad games. So, what’s going on here?

My first instinct would be to say that there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” when it comes to artistic perception. However, I also have to recognize that games aren’t like most other art forms. Games are the combination of art and technology, and the latter is where we find the crux of this argument. While there’s no true, universal way to qualify art, I think it’s safe to say that there does exist a way to qualify technology, at least to some extent. A computer with 128 GB of ram is better than a computer with 100 GB of ram. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact. There exists no possibly positive advantage of having a computer with less memory over one that has more.

Conversely, let’s apply this to video games. A game with a high frame-rate is better than one with a low frame-rate. That’s not an opinion. That’s a fact. Things that we can truly measure and quantify that also have intrinsic positive or negative properties are factors that can be used to find objective quality. The question is, then, to what extent this can be applied to video games.

Not far, to be honest, but to some extent, it can. Going back to “Sonic:” the first “Sonic” game on the Genesis is objectively better than the port of it on the Game Boy Advance because of how atrocious the frame-rate and screen crunch on the Advance port could be. They’re the same exact games, save for a few changes to the physics, so the only criteria we have for comparing these two games are their technical aspects. This way, we can determine the objective quality of these games, but only in the context of comparison.

That said, can we, with this tool, label the objective quality of each and every game? I’d say no. You can argue that the technical aspects of the “Sonic 1” port are objective flaws with the game and that means that “Sonic 1” on the Genesis is better, but that doesn’t account for how each stands on its own without outside standards to which to compare. I can’t say that “Sonic 1” is a good game in either its Genesis or GBA versions, nor can I say it’s a bad game. I dislike both of them, but that’s because I perceive each game’s artistic design as bad. Just because I perceive something to be good or bad doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily true. The most I can do is claim why something can be better or worse than something else based on objectively quantifiable criteria. It’s all about comparison.

That’s also not to say that “Sonic 1” for the GBA is a bad game. I might hate it, but that doesn’t mean “bad” should be used as a universal label by everyone else. Like I said, there are still people who defend and love this game despite its flaws. Does that mean that they don’t notice these flaws at all? Perhaps it’s possible, but the objective flaws I’m talking about are sensations, not perceptions. These “Sonic” fans can’t help but notice the problems in this game. It’s unavoidable. What’s happening here is that they’re ignoring the flaws that they know exist. They perceive the objective flaws to be unimportant and put them out of their minds.

So, here’s my thesis: games cannot be objectively labeled on an artistic level, but they can be labeled on a technical level. However, even on a technical level, people’s perceptions and biases can enable them to ignore these facts. By that logic, then, can a perfect game exist? It’s simple really. Yes. The perfect game exists somewhere out there.

It exists in your mind.

If you think a game doesn’t have flaws, you’re wrong. There are always things that a game can do better when stacked up against ideal standards, and no game can holistically meet those standards in every respect. I think that I can except a game to be perfect, yes, but only if I’m willing to lower my standards in what makes a good game.

GameCrank is produced by Patrick Pontes.


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